Disclaimer: "ANGEL" is a trademark of Twentieth Television © 1999.
8:11 p.m., December 25, 1999
Cordelia Chase was having the worst Christmas of her life.
After twenty-four hours in the palatial two-bedroom apartment her parents had moved into after the IRS seized the house and pretty much everything in it, with nothing to do but pretend her mother's attempts at cooking a traditional dinner hadn't sucked beyond the telling of it, watch the five broadcast channels their second hand TV could pull inall of which seemed to be airing nothing but football gamesand lie about the acting jobs she hadn't gotten while in Los Angeles working for a bloodsucking creature of the night and dismembering the occasional giant squid in the sewer, Cordy had pretty much had it.
So, she had fled to the mall.
As a child, she had loved the mall at Christmas-time. She loved climbing into Santa's lap (before she found out that it was only skanky Mr. Potter with a fake beard) and telling him what she wanted with the absolute and complete certainty that whatever toy she set her heart on would be waiting for her beneath the gigantic live Christmas tree in the foyer of their twenty-room mansion on Christmas morning. That childhood fantasy of absolutes had gone up in smoke long before she had learned there was no Santa Claus.
Mr. Chase had thought that his entire responsibility as a husband consisted of making sure that Mrs. Chase had enough money in her checking account to pay for the cadre of doctors she employed to explain why she spent most of her time lying in darkened rooms with cool cloths across her brow. So long as smiling wife and daughter were there to greet him once a month as he stopped off at home between business trips, the social contract was fulfilled, all was right with the world and Cordelia's credit card bills were always, always paid.
Needless to say, the unshaven, unkempt man slaving away at the second-hand computer in the second bedroom, trying to draw up a business plan that all his former Country Club friends would invest in despite the fact that none of them had returned his calls since April, was not the giant of a man in an Italian silk suit that Cordelia remembered from her youth. The fact was, even before the IRS made the Chase fortune turn into the Chase desperate-attempts-to-avoid-going-to-jail-for-tax-evasion with a wave of their magic government issue wand, Cordelia had figured out that her parents really just didn't have a clue.
For one thing, neither of them seemed to noticeor carethat they were living on a Hellmouth. Or that their daughter was spending most of her school nights out fighting big evil. Her folks hadn't even noticed that she had been dating Xander Harris, or that she had stopped dating Xander Harris. They only noticed she'd been impaled because the hospital had billed them. They'd missed out on the mayor turning into a giant snake in the middle of graduation, because they were too embarrassed to be seen by Harmony's parentsnever mind that her folks hadn't been there either. Which turned out to have been a good thing, anyway, on account of her getting eaten.
As Cordelia walked through the mallwith all the shops closed for Christmas except for the Starbucks, which wouldn't close for the Armageddon, she tried to remember what it was like to walk through this mall as if she owned it. It was not as pleasant a memory as she would have liked.
"Cordelia!" her reverie was broken by a familiar voice and she turned around to see Willow Rosenberg jogging toward her, with another girl in tow whom Cordelia remembered vaguely from the prom.
Cordelia plastered a smile on her face and tried to look pleased to see her. "Willow! Hi! Wow, you look..." she was about to say just the same until she realised she didn't. Gone was the pink and fuzzy Willow of high school and in her place was a bohemian grrrl that somehow still managed to look pink and fuzzy without actually being pink and fuzzy. "You look great."
"I didn't know you were home!"
"I just drove up for, you know, the day. I'm headed back tomorrow. I figured everyone would be away"
"Yeah, Buffy and her mom are off doing mom-daughter bonding type stuff and Xander"
"Xander is off cavorting with family," the other girl said sharply as she sat down on the bench and crossed her arms and legs. "Without me."
"You remember Anya?" Willow smiled tightly. "She and Xander, are, um... dating."
Cordelia looked the other girl over and her hazel eyes narrowed slightly. "Didn't you used to be a demon?"
"I mean, what, is he ashamed of me, or something?" Anya said to no one in particular. "Like, I'm not good enough to meet his lousy family? Please. When I was his age, my father would have had him flogged for even looking at me in the marketplace. He'd have had to bring my parents at least three sheep just to beg them to let him go walking with me from the village to the well. Three sheep! Three!"
Willow turned back to Cordelia, ignoring Anya. "How's Angel? How's LA? Are you really working, like, actually doing work type working? In an office and everything?" The questions came spilling out one after the other, so quick there was no hope in answering all of them at once.
"Angel's... great. Um... really, just great. Fighting the lurking evil and even getting paid sometimes."
There was an awkward silence, which Cordelia jumped in to fill. "How's school?"
"Great. Finals were... you know... but I think we did really well. I mean, we won't know until we get the results. But I have next semester's classes all picked out and Buffy's still trying to figure out what she wants to do, because she hasn't declared a major yet and you don't actually care about school, do you." Willow's eyes narrowed and she sat down on the bench and Cordelia sat down beside her. "I'm sorry. Here I go, going on and on about school and I know... Are you really bummed that, you know...You aren't going?"
"I mean who needs all that work, right? And I'd never be able to make it to auditions if I were stuck in classes all day."
"Oooh! Have you been, you know, on TV yet?"
"Well, you know the hands in the liquid-gel commercial?"
"Yeahwait, that was you?"
"That was almost me by, like, only two or three girls. And the one with the mom with the kid who needs cough medicine and the store is closed? I almost got call-backs for that one."
They stared at each other, groping for something else to say to fill the gaping chasm of silence.
"So, um.... how's Oz?"
Willow's smile crumbled and the brightness in her eyes died. "He, ah... I haven't seen him in a while."
"But he'll be back." Willow said with great conviction.
Another chasm of slience seemed to open up between them.
"Are we finished making small talk now?" Anya asked, and Willow frowned at her.
"Oh!" Willow exclaimed, "What about... um... the guy. The Irish guy.... whose name I can't remember-the one who works with you and Angel?"
Cordelia's smile vanished. "Doyle. His name was Doyle."
"Sorry not always so good with names... Cordelia?" Willow leaned forward and saw the glint of tears in the other girl's eyes. "Was?" she asked in a tiny voice and Cordelia nodded, her lips a tight line. "Oh."
"Men suck," Anya pronounced as she filled their glasses for another round.
Mrs. Rosenberg was off at a seminar with Mr. Rosenberg and with the dorms closed for the holiday, Willow had the run of the house. Cordelia, Willow and Anya were sitting clustered around the coffee table in the living room with juice glasses and a half-empty bottle of amaretto. It was the only liquor Willow could find and she said her mother liked it because it tasted like chocolate covered cherries, only without the cherry or the chocolate.
"Hear, hear," Willow raised her glass high, but Cordelia could tell she didn't mean it. But ever since the third glass, Anya had been making them toast to the mantra and round about the fifth glass, Cordelia had found herself agreeing with the sentiment.
"I mean, who do they think they are?" Cordelia frowned. "What do they have to go off and play hero for, anyway? Do they think it impresses us?"
"I like it when Xander plays hero. Sometimes, he takes his shirt off. I like that." Anya smiled at the happy memory and sipped from her Snoopy collector's glass.
"Oh, God... was I ever like that?" Cordelia asked Willow, who was staring into the depths of her Charlie Brown glass with a look of intense concentration.
"They're always making decisions for us, you know? Like they know what's right. And we have to just sit there and take it..." Willow swallowed and wiped impatiently at a sudden tear. "We're not supposed to have any say in anything, when they decide they're going to be all noble and brave and stuff. Stuff like, you know, leaving."
"At least Oz..." Cordelia began and then stopped. She had been going to say At least Oz may come back someday, but she realised that no one actually knew that for sure. "I mean, even Angel. One lousy day as a human and he goes and decides for Buffy what's right. He didn't even give her a chance. No, he goes straight to the Powers That Be and says 'do that whole Superman flying around the'"
"Powers that Be," Anya growled, her lip curling in disgust. "They think they're so hot."
"Earth thing' and poof. All fixed. Except of course, Mr. Broody has to keep the memories so he can torture himself all over again. As if he actually needs more angst."
"Angel was human?" Willow asked, confused.
"But when you go to themwhen you go to them and say 'Hey! My friend died because of you,' they won't lift a finger."
"Tell me about it." Anya set her glass down and rested her chin in her hand, glum. "When I went to D'Hoffryn and begged himbegged, I had to beg him! And would he do a teeny tiny little temporal fold to get me my necklace and powers back? No! No, I had to live through high school. I mean, what did I ever do to deserve that? I was a great wielder of the Wish! I was the best wielder of the Wish this lousy plane of existence has had in millennia. But noooooooooooo. Anyanka doesn't rate a secondary degree temporal fold. Nope. They used me and discarded me. I was their plaything. And when I try and do one on my own, little Miss Switch here" she jerked a thumb at Willow, "completely misses the necklace and goes for her Evil Twin instead."
"Hey, that was not my fault! You said somebody had robbed your mom's apartment. If you had actually told me about the whole parallel universe thingand anyway, you would have gotten your powers back and we all would have been killed and stuff!"
"You don't know that." Anya pointed out.
"What?" Cordelia tried to follow the conversation in an alcohol-induced haze.
"Oh please! You wanted to change everything back to all yucky. Where I'm all in leather and gay and stuff."
"All I wanted was my necklace back."
"Whoa, back up." Cordelia, took the bottle out of Anya's hands. "You two did a temporary... temper... thingie.... You did a time spell?"
"Secondary class temporal fold. Oh, they say it's not for mere mortals, they say it's only for those high muckity-muck demons"
"Yo, demon chick. Focus here. You did that whole turn back time, fix things that went horribly awry time spell?"
"It would have worked, if I'd found a better witch than Harry Potter here"
"Can you do one again?" Cordelia's eyes narrowed and Anya scooted backwards to get away from the fire in her gaze.
"So, how does this work?" Cordelia asked Willow as she laid out the chicken feet, vial of sand, and candles.
"I need a representation. Do you have anythinga photo, a drawing? Anything?"
Cordelia dug through her purse and pulled out a folded snapshot from her wallet. "It's from Thanksgiving..."
Willow took it from her and smoothed it out. "Wow, he's a hottie," she peered at the photo of Doyle with his arms around Cordelia.
"We were pretending to be boyfriend-girlfriend for his mother, so she wouldn't think he was a complete loser.."
"He's still a hottie."
She took the photo and carefully tore it into half and handed Willow the part with Doyle's face. "Will that work?"
"Yeah," Willow smiled and placed the photo on the dinner plate in the centre of the circle.
Anya sat cross-legged in front of the plate. The former demon was still a bit grumpy. Willow had convinced her that it was a matter of life and death and that they should at least try. Without anything actually in it for her, Anya hadn't been all that gung ho, until Willow reminded her that Xander was Cordy's ex and that if Cordy was dating someone else, that meant she wasn't competition. As pissed off as she was at Xander, the amount of alcohol in her bloodstream had balanced out the illogic of the situation, though she still wished, so long as they were doing the spell, they could have another go at her necklace.
The former wish demon threw back the last shot of Amaretto, and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand before turning to face Cordelia. "Okay, here's the dealWe'll do the actual supplication to Arishon, the Endless One and if we do it right, bingoyou've got your temporal fold. Then we pour the sacred sand on the pictureand only the picture," Anya shot Willow a glare, "of your guy and Arishon brings him forth from the time and place it was lost and you live happily ever after."
"What if it doesn't work?"
"Then... nothing. I mean, either a spell works or it doesn't."
"Yeah, well, the last time this spell didn't work, I almost got eaten by Leather Clad Vampire Willow," Cordelia pointed out. "So, what do I need to do?"
"Stay out of the circle," Anya replied.
"That's it? I mean, isn't there anything I can do to help?"
"It's witchy stuff," Willow patted Cordelia's arm. "But thanks."
Willow and Anya clasped hands loosely, each having one hand on the glass bottle containing the sacred sand.
"Arishon, cusha lo mei an."
"Duprach't do-tai eilah nu, Arishon."
"The child to the mother..."
"...the river to the sea."
"Arishon, hear my prayer."
The room was flooded with cold blue light that wove patterns in the air between Anya and Willow, who held out the vials of sand as their hair was lifted by a sudden wind.
Images danced through Willow's mind as she fought to focusthe man in the photograph facing down Spike, full of bravado. Staking a vampire and reaching out to Cordelia on a darkened street. Morphing from human to something... else. Something with blue-green skin and porcupine quills. Sitting alone in a grungy apartment and drinking amber liquid from a juice glass, a tarnished silver framed photograph in his lap. Laughing in a bar with Cordelia at his side. Fighting a demon and losing...
As they poured out the sand, the world grew white and cold and filled with the rushing of bird's wings.
He awoke in the saline plant, the false smells of the sea in his mouth and nose. He thought for an irrational second that he was home, until the blossoming pain at the base of his skull reminded him that he was far from Dublin. Of course, compared to the bone-crushing pain of the vision he'd had at the bar earlier, this was a picnic... Thanks to the kick that had sent him sprawling, he was going to have some interesting bruises in the general area of his torso come morning, but he was hoping that his ribs were merely bruised and not cracked or broken. Stumbling to his feet, he glanced at his watch. The face was cracked, but he was able to make out the time in the dim light1:53 am.
"Angel?" he called out, but was met with silence. The last thing he remembered was the Mohra demon's fist. If Angel had faced the demon and lost... "I need the cavalry," Doyle murmured and stumbled back out to the car...
...which was nowhere to be found.
He was already halfway to the highway when the Mohra Demon opened its eyes.